Are prayers directed to saints biblically appropriate?
Recently on his Dividing Line webcast, Reformed Baptist apologist James White revisited a debate he had against Roman Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid on the topic of "The Veneration of Saints and Angels." Madrid's argument in the first part of the debate centered on the Roman Catholic practice of offering prayers to saints. In arguing for this practice, Madrid equates praying to saints with asking other Christians to pray on our behalf. A Christian person undergoing intense trial will regularly ask other Christians for prayer, and would be especially quick to ask for prayer from another Christian who demonstrates a particularly vigorous spiritual life. And, Madrid would ask, who has a more vigorous spiritual life than those who have been recognized by the church as saints?
Madrid also stresses that saints, along with all Christians, are within the body of Christ, that death does not separate us from the body of Christ, and that those within the body of Christ are commanded to pray for one another. Therefore, he asserts, the saints in heaven may still be called upon to pray for our needs.
James White points out the errors of Madrid's argument. Whereas the saints in heaven are, along with Christians on earth, within the body of Christ, it is obvious that the roles performed by saints in heaven differ from those of Christians on earth. White offers the counter-example of pastoral leadership. If one were to enter a church building and find the congregation facing the front, sitting silently for an hour with no-one ever ascending to the pulpit, one would think the congregation to be very odd. Concern for the congregation would exponentially increase, however, if the explanation offered was that, 'Well, the pastor died of pneumonia a couple of years back, but death doesn't separate us from the body of Christ- he's still our pastor!' Obviously, although the pastor is kept within Christ's body by God's grace, he is rendered unable to perform his previous role by [temporary] separation from his own physical body.
White also argues that certain commands that we must obey on earth are rendered unnecessary for saints in heaven. It is true that Christians are commanded to pray for one another in passages like James 5:16, but James 5:16 also commands Christians to confess their sins to one another. Obviously, the saints in heaven do not need to obey this command, being free from sin.
An additional consideration concerns the fact that physical death separates the living from the dead in terms of communication. Those who seek to communicate with the dead are called mediums or spiritists and consulting with such people is specifically prohibited in Bible passages such as Leviticus 19:31 and 20:6.
Again, how do those who pray to saints imagine that they hear our prayers? Does St. Peter hear every time a person throughout the world speaks a world that they intend him to hear? Wouldn't this mean that St. Peter- and all the other saints to whom prayer is directed- would have to be omniscient (an attribute belonging to God alone)?
In Scripture, there is no command to pray to saints; there is no example of such prayer; there is, in fact, a prohibition against communicating with the dead. Prayer directed to the saints treats men and women as if they were gods, and is thus biblically inappropriate; in fact, it is idolatry.